Andalucian Regional Elections: the background


This Sunday elections for the Junta de Andalucia (Andalucian Parliament) will take place. A president will be chosen, who will then form a government responsible for an annual budget of €33 billion and an ever increasing range of public services.
This campaign has been relatively low-key, as it is the third time Andalucians have been called to the polls in the last 10 months, following local elections on 25 May last year and national elections on 20 November.
Although I probably understand Andalucia and its politics better than many, having lived here for 22 years, and run a business for 16 years, like other EU nationals I will not eligible to vote in these elections. In the UK, by contrast, EU-national residents can vote in devolved parliamentary elections such as Wales and Scotland.
The PSOE (Socialist) party has governed Andalucia since its first elections as an autonomous community in 1982. If the opinion polls and are to be believed, the PP (conservative Partido Popular) will win either an absolute majority of seats, or a narrow majority with the need to form a pact with another party.
The statistics
The Andalucian parliament has 109 seats, of which 55 are needed for the crucial absolute majority. The current composition is PSOE 56 seats, PP 47 seats and IU (Izquierda Unida, United Left) 6 seats.
There have been eight four-yearly elections since 1982 - the PSOE has won an absolute majority five times and governed in the others through a pact with the PA ‘Partido Andalusista’ (Andalucia Nationalists) in 1994,1996 and 2000, when the PA was rewarded with responsibility for Tourism.
The PA transformed itself into the CA (Coalicion Andalucista) before the 2008 election and, as an unfamiliar name, lost all its seats. The other party that might gain a few seats on Sunday is the UPyD (Union Progreso y Democracia).
In the municipal (local) elections of May 2011, the PP won 39% and PSOE 32% of the vote. In the national elections in November 2011, the PP increased their share to 46%, while the PSOE had 37%.
Examining the municipal election results, the PP controls all eight provincial capitals’ ayuntamientos (town halls), yet only 246 of the 730 town halls around the region. This demonstrates how rural Andalucia is the socialist heartland of Spain, with its agricultural and tourist-service economy. There are only 12 cities with more than 100,000 inhabitants, and one-third of the population live in villages of under 20,000.
The Junta de Andalucia: how the region has changed
So much has been achieved in the last 30 years of the Junta de Andalucia. Thirty years ago, the annual GDP of Andalucia was €11 billion; today it is about €150 billion. That is thanks to consistent annual growth rates of five to ten per cent, although since 2008 it has been practically zero, or negative. Illiteracy has been reduced from 1.3 million to almost zero. People are generally much better educated. Women’s rights and their place in society have been improved immeasurably. Healthcare meets any EU standard, as do freely subsidized prescriptions. The motorway network is almost complete and traffic density relatively low. Five international airports now transport 20 million passengers a year. Modern high-speed AVE trains connect the region to the capital, their network is being further expanded, with more lines under construction. Whatever metric you use, there has been a huge improvement in every aspect of life in Andalucia.
Strangely, however, amidst all this success, the per-capita GDP of Andalucia is still 25 points below the Spanish average. The region occupies the penultimate position of the country’s 17 regions, only ahead of Extremadura. Something has gone wrong, the structural take off has not happened and Andalucia is not the California of Europe as was promised in the eighties.
The PSOE will probably lose the election on Sunday, and the myth that “Andalucia will always be socialist” may be broken. This may be partly due to the departure of the ever-popular Manuel Chaves, former Junta president and PSOE Andalucia leader since 1990. Chaves stepped down suddenly on 7 April 2009 when he was offered a ministerial post in the Zapatero government’s Consejería de Presidencia. He apologized to the Andalucia people not only for leaving, but for doing it during Semana Santa. Jose Antonio Griñan was invested as president, but he has never enjoyed quite the same warmth nor control of the party in Andalucia, which he formally took over a year later.
Corruption and a bulging public sector
Thirty years is a very long time for any party to be in power in a democracy, and such a seemingly inviolable position causes complacency in any government, not to mention a far-too-strong party network within the Civil Service. This inevitably leads to corruption, an over-reliance on spending EU funds without necessary restructuring, an ever-increasing head count in the administration (funcionarios, public sector employees), and not paying enough attention to unemployment.
Corruption was always said to be rife in Andalucia at all levels, and many liberally accused the Junta of their share. Having said that, all the significant cases which queued up in the courts related to town hall mayors and other senior figures. The Junta were either above corruption or too clever, depending on which side you were on. That all changed in February 2011 when Francisco Javier Guerrero, ex-director of employment, testified to police about a secret €700-million fund which was being used to help companies in trouble offer their employees early retirement via a procedure called the ERE (Expediente Regulacion de Empleo). This turned out only the tip of the iceberg, as long lists of party members were given early retirement, including some had never worked for the companies in the first place. Francisco appeared in court last week and was remanded in prison on €700m bail. Unlucky timing for an election.
Another recent example of corruption in Andalucia was the Invercaria scandal. This was the Junta’s flagship venture capital company, helping start-ups in the region. An audit commission report on its 2009 accounts found that there was €21m unaccounted for; directors´ salaries were a staggering €110,000 (later reduced to €80,000); and some “employees” didn’t even work at Invercaria. The director was taped asking the then-promotions director to falsify and backdate investment reports (he refused, so she dismissed him; she resigned when the recording was played in court – you can read transcripts here). The figure quoted for missing Invercaria funds has now grown to €200m.
A recent poll on 15 March in El Mundo says that 53% of voters will be influenced by the numerous corruption scandals, including the ERE.
Paro (unemployment) is currently over 30% in Andalucia, and 35% in Cadiz province. How can this not lead to civil disturbance and crime? Perhaps only thanks to the family structure, the mattress, and unemployment benefits which are generous by the standards of any EU or developed nation. Of course, a large part of these statistics are influenced by the openly black economy. Even during the property boom of the last decade in 2007, the lowest unemployment rate in Andalucia was 12.3%.
EU funding and subsidies
EU structural funds have poured into Andalucia; since 1986, when Spain joined Europe, Andalucia has received about €72.5 billion. This is running at about €3 billion a year - in other words, ten per cent of the €33 billion annual budget of the Junta de Andalucia is allocating EU money.
The administration are masters at managing EU funds, which have been largely allocated as part capital investment in infrastructure. Much of it is useful for important projects, such as for motorways, but is also used to build white elephants and countless projects such as information centres that cannot be staffed or maintained. Or virtual worlds such as (link does not work anymore, here is how it looked and here is the spin) with a budget of several millions of euro that are quietly dropped when found to be lacking. If the PP do win the election, expect an audit (or witch hunt) which will uncover many more such examples. As a taxayer, I am uncomfortable with cost of severing, US style political apointments in the Andalucian adminsitration when combined with Spanish labour law.
Since 1986 Andalucia has received olive oil subsidies amounting to €15 billion, and olive oil production has reached record highs, with the help of drip irrigations and more mechanised cultivation. There are 600 co-operatives in Andalucia and 80% of production is exported to Italy and other countries as unlabelled oil, leaving the bottling and branding to others. Europe pays a per-kilo subsidy, a situation with which Andalucia is comfortable - it hasn´t used these funds to build brands to compete with the Tuscans’.
The wealth transfer has served to create a very large regional public administration. Seventeen people out of every 100 employed work in public sector administration. This is the highest level of public sector employment in Spain, with Madrid next at 15, down to Extramadura at six. Outsourcing would have been a more cost-effective strategy, especially in a downturn when budgets need to be cut.
The learning curve for EU grants is steep, with excessive and complicated paperwork for applicants. There does seem to me to be a landscape of haves and have nots. I remember first noticing this in my role of “journalist” at Airtec (the aerospace supply industry trade fair) in Frankfurt in 2008, when I interviewed exhibitors on the Andalucia stand and asked if the regional government had helped them. The answers were distinctly polarized; a strange by-product of this EU grant divide is the unhealthy jealousy felt by the have-nots - even the flamenco singers are tired of it. They recently complained and forced a meeting with Paulino Plata, the Culture Minister, over so much going to so few.
At least the sun continues to shine in Andalucia, and the foreign tourist arrivals are increasing again - but this in itself will not be enough to take the region forward. Exports are presently so low that whoever wins the election will need to give a sharp kick-start to the “Plan de la Internacionalización de la Economía Andaluza” and the “Plan de Fomento del Plurilingüismo”, so that when the next generation of school children are asked what career they aspire to, the majority won’t answer "functionario" (public service worker).

Blog published on 23 March 2012